DANGERS OF CONCUSSIONS: How State Laws Are Mandating Adult Education on This Important Issue

A New Study on Adult-Education Mandates In State Concussion Laws

By Doug Abrams

 Between 2009 and 2014, amid heightened public awareness about the serious consequences of concussions suffered in youth sports, every state and the District of Columbia enacted laws designed to promote prevention and treatment of these traumatic brain injuries. Such legislative unison is rare in today’s partisan times that divide blue states and red states, but this flurry demonstrates public support for effective measures designed to make life better for the nation’s youngest athletes.

Legislatures enact standards to govern events and circumstances as they occur in the future. Recognizing that legislation is inherently predictive, prudent legislators monitor operation of their enactments to help assure that standards will work as anticipated, and to consider amendments in light of experience. In prominent matters such as youth sports concussions, laws once enacted remain works in progress.

In the December issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), researchers published a study indicating that the recent state concussion laws are already fulfilling one of their primary missions — educating adults and players about prevention and treatment. After surveying these laws, this column discusses the early signs of the positive effects of this education. The column concludes by discussing the role of concussion education in guiding parents toward an informed decision about a matter not directly raised in the AJPH study, whether to permit their child to play a particular contact or collision sport at all.

State Concussion Laws              

Between 2009 and 2014, every state and the District of Columbia enacted statutes concerning traumatic brain injury in youth competition. By that time, leading voices were calling youth sports concussions “a true health crisis” and a “matter of public health.” Time reported the emerging medical consensus: “Concussions are an alarmingly commonplace injury, particularly among kids and most particularly among active, athletic ones.” With the stakes so high, said CNN chief medical correspondent, neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, “we owe it to our . . . kids . . . to make them as safe as we know how to do, and we can do a lot better than we have been doing.”

The various state concussion laws show differences at the outer edges, but the laws share three common directives. First, nearly all these laws require that before each season, state education departments or local boards of education provide parents, coaches, administrators, and players with information and education about the nature and dangers of concussions, about how to recognize symptoms of potential brain trauma, and about how to help insure healthy recovery. Some of the statutes contemplate provision of written educational materials, and others specify face-to-face group presentations.

Second, most of the laws require that coaches immediately remove from a practice session or game any player who is suspected to have suffered a concussion.  Third, most of the laws require that the player may not return to action until a physician or other licensed medical professional clears the player and affirms that return is medically appropriate.

 The Beneficial Effect of Concussion Education

The new AJPH study found a significant nationwide increase in reports of new and recurrent youth sports concussions for the first two and a half years or so after the state laws went into effect. The research team concluded that the immediate increase “may be attributable to greater recognition and reporting of concussions by athletic trainers or athletes following implementation of concussion education requirements of these laws, rather than increased number of injuries.” The research team reasoned that mandatory education has “improved coaches’, athletic trainers’, parents’, and students’ knowledge of concussion signs and symptoms.”

Concussion Education and Parental Prerogatives

The AJPH study focused on the evident effects of parent education in preventing and treating concussions among youth leaguers. But this education may also play a central role in a parent’s decision whether to permit a child to enroll in a particular contact or collision sport in the first place. For example, youth football enrollment rates have fallen noticeably in many localities, while other parents educated about the risks and rewards of participation decide to enroll their children. Either way, parental choice here is a parent’s prerogative.

Quoted in Sports Illustrated this summer, Dr. Bennett Omalu said that no child should play football. “Someday,” he predicted, “there will be a district attorney who will prosecute for child abuse, and it will succeed.” He called youth football “the definition of child abuse.”

Dr. Omalu is trailblazer in raising public awareness and concern about concussions in football and other sports, but I believe he is wrong about child abuse. There is no room for prosecuting parents for allowing their child to enroll in youth-league or school football. The Constitution guarantees parents broad discretion to raise their children, so the law requires a strong showing to defeat parental decision making. Football safety concerns are real and medical experts and safety advocates should continue to speak out to educate parents and players. Parents commit no crime, however, when they decide to allow their child to play the nation’s most popular professional and amateur sport.

A child endangerment prosecution might be appropriate if, for example, parents expose their football player to specific health or safety consequences during play, such as by coaxing him to play with a concussion or other serious injury. But the initial enrollment decision depends on the parents’ informed judgment, backed by the sort of educational outreach mandated by the states’ new concussion laws and by educational commentary and reports widely available in the broadcast and print media.

 

Sources: Jingzhen Yang et al., New and Recurrent Concussions in High-School Athletes Before and After Traumatic Brain Injury Laws, 2005-2016, American Journal of Public Health, vol. 107 (Dec. 2017); Douglas E. Abrams, Confronting the Youth Sports Concussions Crisis: A Central Role for Responsible Local Enforcement of Playing Rules,  Mississippi Sports Law Review, vol. 2, p. 75 (2013); Lyle J. Micheli, Foreword, in William Paul Meehan III, Kids, Sports, and Concussion: A Guide for Coaches and Parents xi (2011) (“[a] true health crisis”); Alan Schwartz, High School Players Shrug Off Concussions, Raising Risks, N.Y. Times, Sept. 15, 2007, at A1 (quoting Dr. Robert Sallis, president of the American College of Sports Medicine); Jeffrey Kluger, Headbanger Nation, Time (Feb. 3, 2011); Tackling the Dangers of Concussions, Daily News of L.A., Jan. 26, 2012, at L1 (quoting Dr. Gupta); Scooby Axson, “Concussion” Doctor: Letting Kids Play Football is “Definition of Child Abuse,” Sports Illustrated, https://www.si.com/nfl/2017/08/08/bennet-omalu-cte-football  (Aug. 8, 2017); Brooke de Lench, Letting Kids Play Football is Not Child Abuse, http://www.momsteam.com/blog/brooke-de-lench/letting-kids-play-football-not-child-abuse (Aug. 14, 2017).

 

ACCOUNTABILITY WITH ATHLETES: What’s the Right Punishment for the 3 UCLA Hoopsters Caught Shoplifting in China?

Here’s a pop quiz for you.

What’s the appropriate punishment for the three freshman UCLA basketball players who were caught shoplifting in China?

Now, they all said the right things at their recent televised press conference…that they will learn from this experience….that they apologize…and what they did was not who they really are – not the way they were brought up.

They even thanked the President and the United States Government.

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GETTING CUT FROM A TEAM: What Parents — and Coaches – Need to Know

FOR THE PARENT….

I want to discuss difficult moments in an athlete’s life when – as the Mom or Dad – you find yourself on the spot to have to say the right thing – to find the precise words – to talk with your son or daughter when things aren’t going their way.

We’re talking about key or crucial conversations – and every sports parent has them.

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ATHLETIC DIRECTORS: Why are So Many HS AD’s Calling it Quits?

On last Sunday’s radio show, I asked whether the time has finally come to seriously think about walking away from traditional HS varsity sports programs.

I asked that question because so many talented and gifted coaches have become tired and worn out by the endless number of sports parents who confront them about their kid’s lack of playing time, or not being given certain awards, or just not getting enough attention from the coach. And these coaches just decide that as much as they enjoy working with young kids, it’s just not worth their time and emotional effort to deal with their Moms and Dads. And so, the HS coaches quit- and many of them go off to work for club or travel programs.

In other words, having to deal with meddlesome parents has become the tipping point for coaches.

But as it turns out, it’s not just HS coaches who are throwing in the towel. It’s also more and more HS Athletic Directors who have found that their jobs have only become more complicated and more time-consuming in recent years, so much so that they, too, are walking away from the stress and strain.

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PARENTS V. COACHES: Still the Biggest Issue in Youth and Amateur Sports Today – and Getting Worse

If there is one trend in youth and amateur sports that continues to rise in this country, it’s the issue of more and more HS coaches leaving the ranks. No matter where you live, whether it’s in New York, California, Texas, Florida, Maine, or any of the states in between, the rate at which HS coaches are resigning their jobs has become an alarming epidemic.

What’s the reason for the mass exodus?

The answer is pretty simple.

Parents.

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ABUSIVE COACHES: HS Varsity Football Coach Dismissed for Encouraging Taunting of Opposing Player

According to the Associated Press, a HS varsity football coach was let go in the town of Gray, Maine, because he had allegedly instructed his players to verbally taunt an opposing player who happens to have two mothers as parents.

The mothers, Lynn and Stephanie Eckersley-Ray, of Yarmouth, Maine, reported that the football coach at Gray-New Gloucester HS apparently told his players to verbally taunt their son every time he was tackled by yelling at him: “Who’s your daddy?”

However, despite these allegations, there were no reports of this actual verbal taunting being overheard during the game. Regardless, the superintendent confirmed that after the Friday night game last week, the football coach no longer works for the school district.

TRENDS IN YOUTH SPORTS: What’s Wrong with US Men’s Soccer?

So we’re in the middle of October and there are lots of major events happening in the world of sports including major league baseball playoffs and the upcoming World Series, the NFL and college football, and of course the start of the NBA and NHL.

But in spite of all the great goings-on in those sports, it’s hard to overlook one of the major disappointments for American sports fans this past week. And of cours, I’m talking about the US men’s soccer team not qualifying for the World Cup.

Their 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago sent shock waves throughout US Soccer.

But from a positive perspective, maybe this is just the kind of harsh wake-up call that’s needed to totally re-evaluate and re-examine how we raise our kids in soccer in this country.

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COMMUNICATING WITH THE PARENTS: Part Three of Doug Abrams’ Column on the Power of E-Mail

Using E-mail to Communicate With the Team’s Parents (Part Three)

By Doug Abrams

 Parts One and Two of this three-part column urged community youth league coaches to consider using email to share observations and explanations with parents before, during, and after the season.

Part One provided emails that I, as head coach, wrote and sent during pre-season practice sessions to the parents on the Central Missouri Eagles, our 9-10-year-old Squirt hockey team a few years ago. Part Two provided emails sent to the Eagles parents during the regular season. Together the Parts presented a template for community youth league coaches who seek to enhance communication with parents.

Part Three now closes the trilogy by providing (again in italics) my emails to the parents during the league’s post-season playoffs, a single-elimination tournament for all eight teams that led to the State Championship Game, with its surprises for the Eagles.

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HEROIC COACHES: An Interview with the Legendary Bob Hurley of St. Anthony’s Prep

In his long-tenure at St. Anthony’s Prep in Jersey City, Bob Hurley won 28 state championships with the boys’ basketball team. He has sent literally hundreds of his players onto to Division 1 programs on full scholarships. A few years ago, Coach Hurley was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is extremely rare for a HS coach. His two sons, Bobby and Dan, are head coaches at Arizona State and the Univ of Rhode Island respectively.

In short, Bob Hurley’s remarkable achievements fill page after page. He is that unique as a coach. But more than that, Coach Hurley is widely recognized as being one of those rare people in athletics who stand for all the right values when it comes to teaching kids in sports.

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